Gunter's poor poem

Poem on Zion reveals author's struggle with German guilt and inability to find moderate ground.

Gunter cartoon 521 (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Gunter cartoon 521
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
Gunter Grass would have the Israeli state defenseless, overrun by those who want to erase the Jews from their homeland, a small Middle Eastern state, built by Jewish hands and Jewish minds.
In the noted German novelist’s poor poem he speaks of our Zion, a Zion long awaited, long denied, a dream nourished in long years of exile, a dream so essential to those hunted and murdered and left unprotected among the other nations of the world. Without power, without the terrible threat of atomic destruction, how long would the Jews prosper in their land and how quickly would their enemies march on their cities, throw rockets into their bedrooms, pour nerve gas under their door sills?
Does anyone doubt the vulnerability of the Jewish state without its hidden arms, without its strength of technology and will?
But what we see here in this novelist poet, who was drafted into the Waffen SS , the Nazi Party division dedicated to the extermination of every last Jew in Europe, is a torn spirit run amok, spoiled by his struggle with German guilt and unable to find moderate ground.
That he knows shame is true. He covered up his war service for more than 60 years, only revealing it in 2006. Perhaps that was simply political opportunism. If he makes Israel the criminal, he justifies himself and the German people. See, he says, the Jews are as bad, maybe worse than we were. But this is a corruption of history and a sinister deflection of the truth of Auschwitz.
There are real criticisms that can be made about Israeli policy toward its neighbors. There are those who find Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues dangerously immune to the realities of other political wills, of the needs of other peoples and of the necessity for a peace process that spares Israel the role of oppressor in the land.
But this dialogue begins with an assumption that Jews have a right, a normal right to a place of their own, in a land of their origins. They have a right to self-defense, to preserve their country against the many designs against their survival.
What is the realistic and moral way to save the Jews from another exile? That is a real discussion. Grass only helps those on the Right in Israel who claim we have no friends, we can never compromise, we can never talk to our implacable enemy. Our obligation is to avoid peace so that we can never be driven from the land again or denied our right to the whole acreage.
Grass harms the Israel of those who would strive harder for peace, who would not plant and build on the only ground that is left for the Palestinian state. So not only does he inflame the ugliest of anti-Zionist passions but he also undermines those Jews who would move toward peaceful resolutions if they had the votes, the public behind them.
This poet has no balance. Justice eludes him. He shows us once again that Jews will not get a fair hearing in the public square that sits on the killing fields of European history. So let him stew in his guilt and his desire to be more moral than the Jews, more pure than the Danes.
As he pretends to abhor the weapons of mass destruction in Israeli hands he is really puffing up his old man’s ego, wiping out his national shame, and excusing his personal non-heroic behavior.
Jews in Israel and America don’t have to worry. This poem is not a beautiful poem. It will not be recited in classrooms down the years. It is a clumsy poem of hate. Our responsibility is not to let it push Israel into aggressive action that might in the long run harm us.
Gunter Grass, I will try very hard not to despise you because there is enough of that in the world already.